China’s Zhou Guanyu is feeling confident ahead of Sunday’s Imola grand prix despite a rain-hit qualifying session in Italy on Friday. The 22-year-old Alfa Romeo rookie, the first Chinese driver in F1 , will be on the seventh row – alongside seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes – for Saturday’s 100km (62-mile) sprint race to determine the grid for Sunday’s grand prix. His teammate Valtteri Bottas will start on the fourth row, alongside Sergio Perez of Red Bull. There were frequent crashes and five red flags on Friday, with reigning champ Max Verstappen of Red Bull securing his first pole of the season for the sprint. Verstappen outpaced Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 1.2 seconds, with McLaren’s Lando Norris third ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas. “Looking at the past, I don’t want to say too much,” Zhou said of his prospects this weekend. “But normally for me I’m stronger on the race pace, so we often move up as a team. “If it’s dry conditions, we have a very good chance because you never know here how the weather is. “But it looks like it could be more promising. I’m ready for it. It could be a tricky weekend, but we managed well today.” Wet conditions also played havoc after a second restart in the second qualifying session, and Zhou was one of a few drivers who ventured out onto the track with little chance of improving their times. Zhou posted a best time of 1 minute 19.730 seconds in Q1, and 1:21.434 in Q2, which was not enough to see him through to Q3. Mercedes pair Hamilton and George Russell also both failed to make it to the top-10 shoot-out – the first time the team has not had a driver in Q3 since 2012. “To go through Q1 really is quite good because I have zero laps here in the F1 car at Imola,” Zhou said. “So I think it’s a good step. We were also in the top five, so I was thinking we have a good chance for Q3 today.” “Second qualifying, first lap, I obviously struggled a little bit with the warm-up,” he added. “I couldn’t really push 100 per cent. I was waiting for my second boost, then the red flag of course. “Looking at the weather conditions, it was getting more damp. We didn’t really have a chance, but nevertheless it’s good. With all these limitations, I’m quite happy to have a decent chance.” The opening session began with drama when, soon after Lance Stroll set the pace with 1:23.419 on dry slick tyres, Alexander Albon’s right-rear brake caught fire, flames flicking in the air to prompt a red-flag interruption before the brake exploded. A dramatic end to Alex Albon's qualifying 😮 #ImolaGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/CRAbCUVUHI — Formula 1 (@F1) April 22, 2022 Debris flew across the circuit as the London-born Thai driver steered his Williams to safety, followed by a six-minute stoppage. On resumption, with everyone moving to softs, Vettel and then Stroll went fastest for Aston Martin before the times tumbled in improving, drying conditions. Leclerc emerged half a second clear of Verstappen with Sainz third while Hamilton, his car “porpoising” severely, scraped through in 15th, just 0.004 seconds quicker than Yuki Tsunoda, who was eliminated. Out with him went his Alpha Tauri teammate Pierre Gasly, both Williams drivers Nicholas Latifi and Albon, and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. “So, on timed lap before the rain hits,” Ferrari told Leclerc on team radio as the second session began with dark clouds looming. Sainz responded, going top, but Verstappen went faster before the Spaniard crashed to bring another red flag.